Sunday, November 30, 2014

Compulsive Reader Dec Newsletter is out

Hello everyone.  The December Compulsive Reader Newsletter has just been released.  As always we have ten fresh reviews featuring the likes of Simon Armitage, Gabriel Contains, Deborah Rodruigez, an interview with Allen Wyler, and many others.  We also have two great new giveaways, lots of literary news, and enough links to keep your meta-reading going all holiday long.  Drop by the public archive to grab a copy immediately, or watch for it in your in-box: http://www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/eyJpZCI6NTE3MCwidmlldyI6ImVtYWlsIn0/

If you’re not a subscriber, and want to be (it’s free, like all the best things in life...), you can visit: http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up.  I don’t send more than one newsletter a month and there are always giveaways.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Poetry Monday: Poems of New York

I'm becoming partial to small hardbacks these days.  I'm not sure exactly why, but I know that at least part of it is the simple utility of them - they fit neatly in my handbag, don't overly clutter up the bedside table, and are light and easy to take around.  They're also lovely - all solid and jacketed, with thick creamy pages and a lovely feel in the hand.  Kathryn Fry, herself a fine poet, loaned me this copy of Poems of New York, edited by Elizabeth Schmidt.  Putting aside my great stacks of review copies waiting for attention, I decided to delve in immediately.  I like to read poetry slowly, over a period of time, reading one poem and carrying it around with me, thinking about it and living it for a bit - seeing how it colours my perception, and Poems of New York has been perfect for that.  It has also made me nostalgic, taking me down streets I used to walk, through conversations I probably had, to meals and parties and sensations that are uniquely linked to the city I grew up in, but am now a long way from.  Though small, the book is dense and contains work from writers as diverse as Whitman, Melville, Amy Lowell, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Edna St Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, EE Cummings, Langston Hughes, Auden, Bishop, O'Hara, Ginsberg, Ashbery, and the list goes on, including some modern poets too like David Berman, Melanie Rahak, and Nathaniel Bellows.  There are old favourites in here - poems I've memorised even, and new ones that touch on very modern subject matters.  I could write a little essay on each poem, I think,
or write a lengthy review which teased out styles, moods, linguistic tricks, moments of beauty, and so on, but I think I'll just single out one poem by Nikki Giovanni titled "Just a New York Poem".  I've chosen this one partly because it captured my mood at the time I read it (and I've only just read it), partly because it's in the public domain and appears safe to reprint, and partly, and above all, because it is somehow indicative of New York as it sits in my memory - simultaneously dynamic and full of life, and a place that exists only in time rather than in space.

i wanted to take
your hand and run with you
together toward
ourselves down the street to your street
i wanted to laugh aloud
and skip the notes past
the marquee advertising “women
in love” past the record
shop with “The Spirit
In The Dark” past the smoke shop
past the park and no
parking today signs
past the people watching me in
my blue velvet and i don’t remember
what you wore but only that i didn’t want
anything to be wearing you
i wanted to give
myself to the cyclone that is
your arms
and let you in the eye of my hurricane and know
the calm before

and some fall evening
after the cocktails
and the very expensive and very bad
steak served with day-old baked potatoes
after the second cup of coffee taken
while listening to the rejected
violin player
maybe some fall evening
when the taxis have passed you by
and that light sort of rain
that occasionally falls
in new york begins
you’ll take a thought
and laugh aloud
the notes carrying all the way over
to me and we’ll run again
together
toward each other
yes?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Compulsive Reader News is out

Hi readers, just a quickie to let you know that the new Compulsive Reader Newsletter for November is now out, making its way to an inbox near you.  The newsletter features 9 brand new reviews (including a film), a new interview, lots of literary news including the Man Booker Prize, the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize, the National Book Prize, Toronto Book Award, Australian Prime Minister's Award, the TS Eliot prize and more, as well as two new book giveaways.  If you haven't gotten yours yet and can't wait, just head over to: The Compulsive Reader News Archive
and grab yourself a copy now.  If you aren't a subscriber, just drop by http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up.  It's free and we've got a lovely worldwide community of readers (10,000 or so!).  I only sent out one newsletter a month.  Enjoy!

 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Newcastle Poetry Prize: A Day of Poetry

Next Saturday, I'll be 'in conversation' with Jennifer Compton, who was awarded first place in last year's Newcastle Poetry Prize for her stunning poem "Now You Shall Know".  Jennifer and I will be talking about all sorts of things, including, but certainly not limited to, the impact of winning such a prestigious prize, about her diverse writing practices, the writing "lifestyle", on touring poetry, and lots more.  There will be plenty of information and advice for poets and poetry readers, and of course my conversation with Jennifer is only the start of what looks to be a massive day of poetry going from 9:30am to 6pm full of incredible words, drink, food, and of course poetic camaraderie.   Following my session with Jennifer,  Hunter Writers' Centre director Karen Crofts will be interviewing Mark Tredinnick, who was last year's 3rd prize winner, won first place in 2011, and was one of the judges for the 2014 prize.  Jean Kent, who has a long involvement with the prize and was the 2013 judge (and was a second prize winner in 1997) interviews Judith Beveridge, who is poetry editor of the well known literary journal Meanjin, was judge of the 2006 Newcastle Poetry Prize and is one of Australia's most highly regarded poets.  I'm sure that the insights presented through these conversations will be of great value to listeners (and interviewers!).  There will be plenty of opportunity to interact in these sessions.  I intend to give attendees a chance to join the conversation with questions.

In the afternoon, The Newcastle Poetry Prize Ceremony (winners announced) and A Live Reading will take place at the Delaney Hotel.  Some of Australia's most illustrious poets will be reading throughout the session, and there will be plenty of time to schmooze, interact, and participate.  Drinks are available from the bar, and canapés will be provided by the HWC.  For anyone who loves poetry, I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. Please drop by and join in the fun!  You can get all the details, and book yourself in here: http://www.hunterwriterscentre.org/prize-ceremony.html

Friday, October 10, 2014

Charity:Water Update

Firstly I want to start today's blog with a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed to my Charity:Water birthday appeal.  So far we've raised $1,470 which met my $1k goal.  Yay!  42 people will get clean water as a result of the work we've done to date.  As soon as I get them from Charity:Water, I'll be providing GPS coordinates and pictures of the people and communities we impacted.  Because this is such important work, I'm going to keep the project going through the month of October, and I'm very happy to report that the very generous Virginia Clay has agreed to keep matching donations dollar for dollar. 

Why does this project matter? Here are a few facts provided by water.org:

- More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world.

- Every minute at least one child dies from a water-related illness.  

- [The water and sanitation] crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns

- An American taking a five-minute shower (not to mention the average Aussie teenager taking a 20 minute shower...you know who you are boys) uses more water than the average person in a developing country uses for an entire day


So thank you, thank you, thank you for helping!  This is really worthwhile work and you're integral to it.  Please drop by the site: https://my.charitywater.org/magdalenas-50th and join us if you haven't already.  No amount is too small - just click "Other" and you can enter any amount at all - the cost of a card, a cup of coffee or an international phone call, perhaps.  Every drop makes a difference, and the difference, as my dear muse Gertrude Stein once said, "is spreading."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

October Compulsive Reader Newsletter is out

Fellow readers, the October issue of The Compulsive Reader News is now on its way to you via email.  If you can't wait until it arrives or if (horrors) you aren't a subscriber, you can grab a copy from the archive: 
www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/eyJpZCI6NTA0NiwidmlldyI6ImVtYWlsIn0/


Of course if you aren't a subscriber and you want to enter our tasty giveaways, you should just drop by http://www.compulsivereader.com and sign up.  It's free, and I only send out one newsletter a month and nothing else.  This month's issue contains 8 fresh reviews and 2 interviews, as well as literary news from around the world including some of the biggest literary prizes from the US, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Canada, UK, and China.  We've also got three new giveaways, including the Charlie Lovett's new novel, First Impressions. (I really liked his first novel The Bookman's Tale and you can hear my interview with him and his little promo of First Impressions here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader/2013/07/16/interview-with-charlie-lovett)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Poetry Monday: Jeri Kroll

Sometimes on a Friday afternoon, as a kind of preparation for poetry Monday, I like to run my fingers along the poetry section of my bookshelf, eyes glazed as if I were feeling braille.  I have so many appealing looking poetry books (and more arriving daily) that I haven't yet read, with names that might or might not be familiar to me.  I'll usually just pick one up that seems to feel right against my hands, and begin reading.  Sometimes the poetry isn't right for my mood, so I put it back and try again.  This Friday I picked up Jeri Kroll's workshopping the heartI was instantly  drawn by the themes of Kroll's work: parenting, aging, the continual bisection of love, grief, and loss, and the relationship between the universe, nature and the human. So much of this work resonated immediately with my own experience and emotions at the moment.  And this was before I knew that Kroll was a NYC girl who spent summers in the Catskill mountains, whose mother was a singer, and who now lives in Australia.  Obviously we have similar reference points, and if she were in NSW, I'd invite her to dinner immediately.  As it is, I'm going to email her publisher (Wakefield Press) and line up an interview (I'll let you know when...). Workshopping the Heart includes selections from her seven previous collections, poems from 2005 to 2012, and excerpts from her forthcoming verse novel, Vanishing Point.  Here's a little taste taken from her poem "Eavesdropping" (how can I resist a poem set at Tidbinbilla's Deep Space Tracking Centre): 

On a noisy planet, Australia rates as quiet.
The radio telescope is set to scan
the silent skies. Scientists link up
around the world.  Soon the whoosh of space 
appears on their computer screens.
They have 'seen' the pulse of emptiness.
They want a new vibration from some extraterrestrial heart.

The universe sounds like a distant wind
with nothing to bang or rustle.
We invent a door, push it ajar,
and wait to hear it rattle. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Like Birthday for Water

I'm turning 50 next month.  Yup, half a century is looming in front of me, and I'm not at all bothered about it. After all, I often get told that I'm aging well, I'm fit, healthy and my life is full of abundance.  One of the reasons that I've aged well is that I make it a point to drink lots of fresh, clean water every day.  However, not everyone has the privilege of unlimited access to clean, safe drinking water.  Millions of kids around the world don't live to see their fifth birthday because they don't have access to clean, safe drinking water. 800 million people still live without clean water in developing countries around the world. Many walk 2-4 hours a day to swamps and rivers to gather dirty water for their families.  Clean water isn't just a thirst quencher. It's a life saver, and a life changer. Clean water means health, income and education - especially for women and kids. Every $1 invested in improved water supply and sanitation can yield from $4 to $12 for the local economy.  So providing clean water for those who don't have access to it is a big deal, and this year, instead of an expensive bash or fancy trip, I've decided to donate my birthday for clean water. Right now, a generous supporter is matching all donations to birthday campaigns until the end of the month, so although I don't turn 50 until October, now is the best time to donate.


Every penny of the money raised will directly fund clean water projects. And when those projects are finished, charity: water will send us proof in pictures and GPS coordinates, so we can see the actual people and communities we impacted (I'll put them up here).  That means we'll know the locations and names of the communities we helped. This year, instead of sending me well-wishes, a card or a gift, please join me and donate, whatever you can afford, to my birthday campaign. Every bit helps, it's tax-deductible, and even a $1 donation can have a big impact, especially if you donate before the end of the month, when every $ is doubled, so please go to https://my.charitywater.org/magdalenas-50th and donate whatever you can.  Thanks so much!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poetry Monday: Sarah Taylor (slams it)

A few days ago a friend of mine sent me a link to this great motherhood poem by performance poet Sarah Kay:
http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter

I loved it and coincidentally had just been discussing the possibility of a Slam poetry session at the 2015 Newcastle Writers Festival.  Slam is such an interesting form - the poem created in the heat of the performance, sometimes never written down, and therefore always different in the play between audience and performer.  It's quite different I think (mostly) to a poetry recital which is meant to be an adjunct or support of the poem designed to be read on the page, in the quiet of a reader's head.  My friend's link to Sarah Kay put me in mind of another slamming Sarah - Sarah Taylor, the 60 year old who won the 2009 Australian Poetry Slam with her ribald "A Disgraceful Old Woman".  A poem that is part of a quartet gathered from "secret old woman's business". 

What can I say other than watch the performance below and feel yourself opening to new possibilities of the form.  I'm hoping I can get Sarah to talk to me about the way Slam breaks down barriers (not only between gender, race, and genre, but between audience and poet), and the utter fun (and perhaps terror) of performing to a scoring crowd.  If you didn't know what a slam was, you'll know after this brief video. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Happy Father's Day (Boat Yard)



Here in Australia (and the UK too), it's Father's Day.   As has become something of a tradition for me, I'm celebrating on my blog with a poem from the father focused book of poetry that Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I wrote together titled Imagining the Future. This year's poem is the poem that gave the book its title, and was inspired by an image (which now graces the cover) that my uncle took of my grandparent's boat yard where they lived when I was growing up.  The photo was taken long after they moved away and conveys both the stark beauty of the place, and its abandonment - something left in memory, snow covered and still.  When my grandparents lived there, the boat yard was always warm, noisy, and full of sunlight and freshly prepared food aromas. The poem was written for my grandfather Sam, who was something of a father figure for me.  Happy Father's Day all you wonderful fathers, father's fathers, and father figures.  You're far more loved and appreciated than your children (and grandchildren) tend to articulate. 

Boat Yard

Walking the fuzzy line
between deference and defiance
a cold wind opens the door
you slide
into frictive fictive
present.

Holding onto your absent body
too tightly
I find something
tangible
a heart once broken
beats
beneath my own chest.

The snarl of your lip
against kindness in your eyes
how odd to find you
now
still supportive
so many years after you disappeared.

Snow covers everything
not enough for fairytale glitter
just desolate dust
darkening teal on the horizon
and water
always water
together we swim
through a remembered past
imagining the future.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter out for Sept

Hello everyone.  Just a quick check in to let you know that this month's Compulsive Reader Newsletter has just gone out and will be coming into your email in-box in batches throughout the day (or night, depending on where you are).  If you don't have it, or can't wait, you can drop by the archive:
http://www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/eyJpZCI6NDk0NSwidmlldyI6ImVtYWlsIn0/

and grab yourself a copy.  We've got the usual ten fresh reviews, three great giveaways, two new interviews, and of course all the literary news that's fit to print. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Poetry Monday: Jennifer Compton

I first met Jennifer Compton at the inaugural Newcastle Writer's Festival in 2013, when I cheekily sat down at her table in a crowded cafe.  We were both there to read our poetry.  I was on my own, and she was there with two other poets as part of a tour that was nearly finished. I was intrigued at the idea of a touring 'band' of poets, reading in different places, at different events, and cheering each other on as indeed they did, whooping and supporting one another through the performances.  Jennifer read beautifully - performing her pieces with flair and leaving me with teary eyes.  Her poem "Now You Shall Know" won last year's Newcastle Poetry Prize.  Here's a little excerpt, taken from the NPP page.  

But I am an old woman also.  Two old women waking to the new day
that will bring a sudden jolt that is the beginning of the end for her.

I have imagined what I might feel dressing for my mother's funeral,
and as I pinned her lily-of-the-valley brooch to my grey lapel, I knew.


I'll be interviewing Jennifer on the 25th of October at the NPP Poetry Prize Ceremony from 9.45am – 10.30am, and you're welcome to join us there (please come and say hello!).

The following poem "Palmy" (for Palmerston North in New Zealand) comes from her book This City, which won The Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry:
http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/palmy-by-jennifer-compton.html

Here's the title poem from This City:

I am travelling away from my life, towards my life.
 

This city knows all my secrets.
 

And that tram, lit from within, waiting at the end of the line.
 

This city, which is nowhere else.

I'm looking forward to spending several hours lost in This City in preparation for my chat with Jennifer (as if I needed a reason...). 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Poetry Monday: Adrienne Rich

Photo credit: Dorothy Alexander
I can't believe I haven't done a Poetry Monday feature on the great Adrienne Rich.  Today is that much overdue day.  This little snippet here won't be doing the body of her work justice.  There aren't many major poetry awards she hasn't received, including the Wallace Stevens Award for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.  She had published some 28 (maybe more) books of poetry, 10 nonfiction, and countless anthologies.  I've been steeped in her work over the past week, re-reading her out of my dog-eared Norton anthologies that I've kept since I was an undergrad (I've got two and they've survived a lot of culls!), and I'm still astonished by how good she is.  I've just ordered a copy of A Wild Patience Has Taken Me this Far: Poems 1978-1981, so I can go a little deeper into her precise, focused world of words.  In the meantime, here are two poems that have particularly taken me.  The first is "Dreamwood", which you can hear Adrienne herself read here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175906#poem

little excerpt:
"If this were a map,
she thinks, a map laid down to memorize
because she might be walking it, it shows
ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert
here and there a sign of aquifers
and one possible watering-hole."

The other one is "Planetarium".  You can read the whole thing here:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/4046

just a wee excerpt here;

"What we see, we see   
and seeing is changing

the light that shrivels a mountain   
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse   
pouring in from Taurus"

You know you want to read more. Go find Adrienne. She's waiting for you, "for the relief of the body/and the reconstruction of the mind."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for August is out

Our latest issue of The Compulsive Reader news is out.  This month's issue features ten fresh, exclusive reviews including new work by Martha Woodroof, Victoria Norton, Jacob Appel, Jojo Moyes, an interview with Lev Grossman, and more. We also have the usual welter of literary news, two new giveaways, and lots more.  If you didn't receive it, you can grab yourself a copy here; http://www.compulsivereader.com/sendpress/eyJpZCI6NDg5NiwidmlldyI6ImVtYWlsIn0/

If you aren't a subscriber, you can go over and subscribe right now at http://www.compulsivereader.com.  It's free, and you'll be joining a lovely community of 10,000 or so happy readers worldwide. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Launch of A Slow Combusting Hymn

A Slow Combusting Hymn
 is a brand new, hot-off-the-press poetry anthology featuring poetry from and about Newcastle and the Hunter Region
, edited by the dynamic duo Jean Kent and Kit Kelen. The book's cover features a beautiful painting by local artist Claire Martin.  I am very proud to have a number of poems
included in this anthology, not least of which because of the illustrious company: the anthology includes some seriously amazing poets, and has been lovingly organised and edited by Jean and Kit, who have, as you might expect, done a wonderful job.

The book will be launched by Rosemarie Milsom on Saturday, August 9th, 10:30 for 11 am 
at The Lovett Gallery, City Library, Laman St, Newcastle.  The event is open to the public, but you need to RSVP at the event page or directly to Jean no later than August 6th: https://www.facebook.com/events/252310644967858/?source=1

A Slow Combusting Hymn is a poetic map of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. It contains poems from 64 poets who currently live in the region or who have strong local connections. The book is published by ASM and Cerberus Press and its production and launch have been supported by the Hunter Writers Centre.  If you'd like to order copies of the book but can't make the launch, just drop a line to Jean: alicejean.kent@gmail.com with details of what you want, and she'll take care of you. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Changing the world - week 3

It's been quite difficult for me to blog about the Coursera How to Change the World course I'm doing, for a number of reasons.  The first is that the problems and issues that we're exploring are vast and complex, and covering social goods, poverty, climate change, disease and health care, women;s rights, education and social change in seven weeks is rushed, and at times, feels superficial.  Another is that every time I learn something new, I'm ashamed that I didn't already know it. The world is a small place these days and if my neighbour is suffering, and I can help, I should make it my business.

My son tells me I don't need a university course - I should just spend a few hours on Tumblr, and I've done that and will continue to do so, but there's something to be said for having a formal, well-thought through structure for self-education, and for allowing some time (no matter what else is happening) to read carefully (rather than scan), think through that reading, and then, in a curated way, applying it to a local context where a little effort can actually make a significant positive difference.  How to Change the World is very thoughtfully curated, and despite the grandiose title, Michael S Roth approaches the issues carefully and humbly, acknowledging that he's learning along with us, and always allowing local and engaged activists to have the final say and present an insider perspective using a variety of media, and encouraging students to use a variety of tactics and media in the assignments. This week we've focused primarily on climate change, and though I well knew about the inherent challenges of our changing climate, the course has encouraged me to take a positive approach and to see every thing that I can do, whether it's as simple as assessing and then finding ways to decrease my own (fairly considerable, it turns out) footprint, or getting more broadly involved in sustainability projects, as valuable.  Every week I've begun by thinking "this is an issue that is particularly important to me."  This week, which is no exception, is Disease and Global Health Care, and I look forward to watching the videos, delving into the readings, and then applying the learning in a way that is relevant to my life and uses my capabilities.  It may be small, and a little superficial. I can't deny that I'm still ashamed about that.  But doing nothing or becoming overwhelmed is no solution to shame.  I have to start somewhere, sometime, and here, and now, seems to me to be right. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Poetry Monday: Czesław Miłosz

It must have been some 30 years ago when I went to hear Czesław Miłosz read his work in New Jersey at Princeton.  What I remember most was the intensity of his gaze, the way he lost himself in his words as he read, and power that resided as an undercurrent to the simplicity of his words (especially in light of the literary pyrotechnics I was usually drawn to at the time). It was a relaxing evening, involving, if I recall correctly (memory being entirely unreliable), wine, cheese and very little intimidation or pomposity, in spite of the grandeur of our surroundings and the size of the audience, given Miłosz' fame at the time. I've just re-encountered him and the poem below, through a course at the University of Iowa titled How Writers Write Poetry which I couldn't resist checking out (did I mention how easily distracted I am at the moment?) - you can still jump in - this one is totally ungraded.  The workshops have already spurned several new poems, as has my other MOOC course through Coursera How to Change the World, which I'll be posting on shortly if I can find a moment to summarise my thoughts between all the readings.  For now though, here's are a few of my favourite Miłosz poems courtesy of the Poetry Foundation to start the week. 


Encounter: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179568

Ars Poetica: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179563

Account: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179608

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July is out

The Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July has now gone out.  According to my reports, they have all been delivered, but if, for some reason, you don't have yours (or you want to preview before subscribing), just drop by our archive here for a copy:
Compulsive Reader News July

The newsletter this month has the usual bunch of reviews and interviews including Elizabeth Gilbert, Christos Tsiolklas, Sheila Kohler and lots more, as well as all the latest literary news, and three great giveaways (including some things you just can't buy).  If you aren't a subscriber, it's free, we only send out newsletters once a month, and you can sign up in a few seconds at the Compulsive Reader site: http://www.compulsivereader.com.

Enjoy!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Poetry Monday: Radiance at the podcast

A few weeks ago, I featured Andy Kissane's Radiance here on Poetry Monday, and as a follow-on to that, I invited Andy to drop by The Compulsive Reader Talks to read from his book and chat to me about the poems. Rather than send you over the show, I thought I'd bring the show to you, so here it is.  I think you'll enjoy it. Andy was a charming guest, and his readings particularly vivid. 
 
If you'd like to read the full review of Radiance, you can check that out here: http://www.compulsivereader.com/2014/06/15/4812/

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On Changing the World

I've just started Wesleyan University's How to Change the World course on Coursera.  Why?  Because I'm actually overloaded at my day job at the moment, in the midst of writing a difficult, troubled novel with a structural issue that needs resolving, working on a few long poems, and managing my family's busy, sometimes chaotic life (not always in that order).  Is that a good reason?  Probably not.  I should be cutting back, not taking more on, but you know, I think there's an argument in there about doing the counter-intuitive thing.  It's like taking time to meditate when you're so stressed and busy that brushing your hair seems like an unwarranted luxury.  I mean not everything I've been doing has been giving me emotional satisfaction, and thinking about the bigger picture and actually taking a little time to reflect always seems to improve my productivity.  Or maybe I'm just rationalising how easy it is to distract me at the moment.  


Actually I was about to press the "un-enroll" button when I decided to just have a quick look at the syllabus first, and before I knew it, I'd already gotten through the first 3 readings, watched the videos and become completely engrossed.  I'm ready to begin applying this kind of thinking to whatever else I'm doing - to energise me a little bit about all those other projects.  First topic is "Social Goods and the Commons".  This is a subject that holds endless fascination for me, both in terms of shared physical spaces (I have a few local ones in mind), and in terms of creative commons or collaborative work.  I'm excited about the very practical and relevant nature of the first assignment, and the way Michael S Roth, president of Wesleyan and also the course developer and primary teacher, has designed the course to allow the 200,000 (!) students taking it to align the notion of making a positive difference in the world with our own aesthetics and skills.  I've done this kind of thing (a MOOC if you like acronyms) before (notably ModPo - just look it up on my blog here for a week by week gush) and it's a perfect example of social goods and creative commons.  One of the readings which drew me straight in was this interview with the amazing Lewis Hyde, whose book The Gift moved me many years ago, and still provides a beautifully written treatise on what it means to create art (or as Atwood put it: "how to maintain yourself alive in a world of money, when the essential part of what you do cannot be bought or sold").  I can't swear that I'll do this course as fully as I'd like.  Depending on my workload I might dip in and out and just do the readings at night instead of reading a new novel (sorry to everyone who is waiting on a review...).  But what I will try to do is to share (pass on, as is appropriate for this kind of gift) the nuggets of insight that I might gain. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Poetry Monday: Andy Kissane

I really wasn't intending on reading Andy Kissane's Radiance for a while.  I'm in the middle of a few other books (including quite a challenging poetry book that is absorbing my attention), but since Kissane queried me himself, and since the book was published by Puncher & Wattmann, a local house that I respect greatly, I thought I'd just give it a quick leaf through (something I often do with new books - almost a reflex action). Before I knew it I was hooked and pushed everything else aside. There are a few reasons for that.  The first is that the poetry is actually very easy to read and drew me in immediately.  I'm not saying that poetry necessarily should be easy - I'm  not afraid of a literary challenge, but it's been a particularly hard couple of weeks, I'm a little tired, and I found the ease in Radiance appealing, especially since the accessibility didn't diminish the depth or power of this work in any way.  Another reason is the humour.  This work is wry.  I was really smiling, especially since the humour didn't diminish the pathos.  Finally (not really finally, because there are lots more things to say...), the work was meta-poetic, self-referential, and modern without losing its link with a strong poetic tradition.  I particularly like the work in Section II (what I've taken to calling "Oatmeal" because of its epitaph), some of which collectively shortlisted for the 2011 Newcastle Poetry Prize.

So far I've been unable to resist reading out loud (to the poor folk who have to live with me) "The Lost Ode of John Keats", "The Catch", and "Three Visions of Virginia Woolf."  If you happen to be in my vicinity, "Political Fruit" is most likely going to come spouting out next.  Fair warning.  Here's a tiny taste from "Rhubarb", which won Kissane the 2012 Coriole National Wine Poetry Prize.  More soon. 

Stewed with apples you give life to cereal,
you populate pies, you fold through whipped
cream with the swirling intelligence of a fool.

Is that why when we've nothing to say,
when we need to fill the air with dramatic chatter,
we utter your name: rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb?